Assorted links

by on January 3, 2014 at 12:36 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1 Sam January 3, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Regarding Easter Island, I highly recommend this Seminar About Long-Term Thinking:

2 Sam January 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

(In case you’re too lazy to listen to the talk, it seems like the “standard” story told by Diamond in _Collapse_ is under serious attack, and the real story of the pre-colonial Easter Island civilization is more interesting, both technologically and economically.)

3 Roy January 3, 2014 at 2:09 pm

When I first heard the story of Easter Island via Marshall Sahlins and others who did their work before the mid 1990s, their was never any claims of pre contact population decline from informed scholars. The issue was social conflict, the rise of increased warfare, the birdman cult and the loss of seafaring capability. All of those could easily be associated with collapse and need no depopulation of the center of the island, which makes very little sense considering Rapa Nui’s geography.

But of course the issue of climate change has probably colored later research. The desire to find previous societies facing environmental disaster causes exaggeration.

4 Justin January 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Easter Island notwithstanding, I believe Diamond is right. See Constant Battles by LeBlanc. It has ample archeological evidence of environmental overuse, such as caches of abalone shells in which the average size declines over time.

5 Roy January 3, 2014 at 6:52 pm

LeBlanc is fantastic, I second this.

As to Diamond, collapse was a really troubled book, I would never reccomend it, though his cartoonish version of Chaco was not really that bad, better than anything else in that book at least. But the anthropology of prehistoric warfare is willfully neglected, and at least Diamond addressed it. There is no way to see places like Chaco or all the fortifications in the post Chacoan southwest honestly without seeing the violence.

6 TGGP January 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I had heard they collapsed due to a rat infestation consuming the seeds that would normally result in trees.

This bit is wrong: “The famous collapse came from a familiar external source—European diseases and enslavement, the same as everywhere else in the Americas and the Pacific.” The Mayans collapsed without any help from Europeans. Joseph Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies” gives Chaco canyon as another example.

7 Sam January 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I didn’t mean to endorse any particular explanation, but only to point out that the deforestation explanation seems to strain credibility in light of the most recent work on the topic. Actually, as I alluded to above, I think the most interesting question is how Easter Islanders organized their society before Europeans arrived, in the face of dramatic resource constraints. The walking statues thing is also really cool.

8 Ray Lopez January 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm

Another interpretation: as the carrying capacity of an island diminishes, so does the population, but the diminished population “solders on”, as a mere shadow of its former self. This would explain how there can be continuity after a collapse. Think about the “Dark Ages” after the collapse of Minoan / Mycenaean civilizations in Greece, or the “Dark Ages” after Roman collapse, which of course revisionist historians will say were not that dark after all–same here, it’s just another way for historians and archeologists to publish something new.

9 Ed January 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm

This was Ran Prieur’s take when he linked to the same piece. He wrote on his blog that the argument that “no, the culture didn’t collapse when all the trees died/ were cut down, they continued happily eating rats!” is more depressing than collapse theories like Diamond’s.

10 Colin January 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm

#3: Officials have the unappetizing choice of trying to provide housing for all of those who need it (which would require heavy taxes, which will make the city less competitive and may do too little to increase supply) or kicking out the non-affluent through high housing costs (which is pretty much what’s going on now, if never admitted to).

Or they could just, you know, upzone to allow for greater density. Hate these false choices.

11 mike January 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Kicking out the non-affluent is a feature, not a bug

12 Michael B Sullivan January 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

While I more-or-less agree with you, I do note that New York is probably the single densest city in the US right now, and it may be harder to significantly infill. Certainly, Manhattan is probably not going to get meaningfully denser. And I think even Brooklyn is more dense than San Francisco.

That’s not to say that you couldn’t achieve significant infill in the boroughs, but there is less low-hanging fruit to pluck in NYC with infill than anywhere else.

13 Sam January 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Is there any evidence to back up the assertion that Manhattan is probably not going to get much denser? As many have observed, Manhattan was significantly more densely populated early in the 20th century. (See, e.g., It’s one thing to observe that political and regulatory burdens to upzoning may be impossible to overcome. But I don’t see any law of economics preventing Manhattan having a density comparable to Hong Kong, and I think residents would benefit if that were the case.

14 Colin January 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Matt Yglesias notes the same in a blog post earlier today:

Manhattan is extremely densely populated right now, but its population has actually fallen by more than 30 percent from where it was in the 1910 Census.

15 Michael B Sullivan January 3, 2014 at 3:02 pm

But as your article points out, this is not because Manhattan has become physically less dense than it was before (ie, it’s not like people razed skyscrapers and replaced them with low-rise buildings). It’s because population patterns have changed to smaller families. I’ll also add that it’s probably because richer people live in Manhattan now and want to get more space for themselves.

These patterns can’t be changed by just saying, “Oh, hey, let’s allow people to build taller buildings here.” I mean, sure, they may reverse themselves over time, but they don’t have a policy “solution.”

I’ll stand by my claim that Manhattan won’t become significantly more dense due to constructing bigger buildings any time soon.

16 Ed January 3, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Manhattan had a population of 2.5 million in 1910, and 1.5 million today (going by memory, so these figures are approximate). However, in 1910 the Lower East Side by itself had a population of 1 million and was a notorious slum. The Lower East Side was cleared out (its too simple to say the population was moved to the suburbs but that was the overall effect), so you get the current population of the island. So Manhattan is full, unless you are willing to have something like the Jacob Riis era Lower East Side again.

However, New York City is large enough that there are some house-and-lawn suburbs within the city limits. Presumably you could add more people by, for example, getting eastern Queens to the same population density as western Queens, or by developing Staten Island. There are problems with trying to do this. First, the residents of these areas definitely do not want something like this to happen. Second, the city’s mass transit structure tends to stop where these suburban areas begin and would have to be extended, which is hugely expensive. Third, even as a business district Manhattan is overcrowded and you really need to develop some satellite business districts in the outer boroughs, which New York City’s and New York State’s approach to regulation and economic development may not allow.

17 Michael January 3, 2014 at 3:23 pm

I find it hilarious this essay dismisses relatively low cost, high density “glass boxes” on one hand, while simultaneously calling for more affordable housing. Uhh, dude, it is precisely because of essays like yours that the glamor-nazis refuse building permits for exactly the kind of low cost housing that you are calling for, or lamenting, or whatever.

Shorter #3: “We need a place for all these poor people. I just don’t want to have to look at them.”

18 JWatts January 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm

“Shorter #3: “We need a place for all these poor people. I just don’t want to have to look at them.”

+8.4 million

19 teen wolf January 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

re: #1

See Lyoto Machida, former UFC LHW Champion and confirmed pee-drinker

20 Edward Burke January 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

#3. What’s the ticking timeline? Isn’t Mayor DeBlasio now obliged to get Albany’s/Cuomo’s approval to impose the new regime of higher taxes on large incomes? What are the key dates upcoming? What are the chances for Albany’s approval, in whole or in part? How soon after that might we see wealth migration out of NYC, if it hasn’t begun in anticipation already? Hizzoner’s plans may prove transformational, indeed.

21 jk January 3, 2014 at 2:50 pm

The two things I thought Americans learned for the past two decades was never trust a Liberal Mayor or a Neocon President with grand plans.

Yes, he’s already played the race card, the class card yet he’s only been in charge for one day. He supported the end to stop and frisk.

There is much more gentrification and wealth in NYC now than the fun times of the 70s and 80s, it will be very hard to undo the popular policies of the previous two Mayors. But in the end he is from the school of thought that “I’m from the government, and here to help.” Social Engineering and Regime Change are always easy to plan and implement, it’s just the effects are never the intended outcomes.

22 Edward Burke January 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Thanks for your reply.

I may’ve only belabored the obvious with my queries, since today we learn that by year’s end Florida is projected to become more populous than New York, just as in the past decade North Carolina has become more populous than New Jersey. De Blasio sounds like a partisan advocate of early retirement for high-income earners, he and Gov. Cuomo may well get whatever it is they wish for in the New Year.

23 Z January 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

#1: Pee drinking has been replaced in America with pickle juice drinking. it has a small but loyal following amongst athletes. Now, some baseball players still pee on their hands before games.

#2: I thought it tipped over when all of the residence went to once side.

#3: NYC is on its way to being a city for the ruling elite and the servant class that supports them. DC is following a similar path. The future may be two types of American cities. Ruling class enclaves and reservations. The former being NY, DC, SF and maybe some other. The later being Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, Camden and others.

24 David Levine January 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

The Archaeology article is being nice: It is Jared Diamond’s theory that is wrong. He still won’t admit it and takes to ad hominem attacks to defend it. He also appeals to “common sense” in regards to his certainty that logs must have been used to move the statues. Common sense is often the most wrong thing there is.
Sam is write the Long Now Seminar on Easter Island is awesome

25 Thomas January 3, 2014 at 1:50 pm

#3. The post explains that because American’s tend to trust private individuals more than the government in regard to residential architecture, and because wealth inequality is high in New York, buildings he doesn’t like to look at are being constructed. And we should do something about that. Like make him Autocrat. Additionally, Detroit exists as it does because government hasn’t been doing enough to combat poverty. And global warming. And public transportation. Mood affiliation defined?

26 Guest January 3, 2014 at 4:08 pm

What about @4? People using drugs in order to cope with awful jobs. Grandparents doing drugs with grand kids. Mothers blowing meth vapor into their children’s mouths. I’m curious as to some solutions here.

27 alexei January 3, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Solution? Maybe we should try making meth illegal.

28 derek January 3, 2014 at 8:17 pm

I don’t understand why this #4 was the drug post of the day. No wisdom from David Brooks re: pot?

29 jk January 4, 2014 at 6:17 am

David Brooks or Tom Friedman, generic middle-brow, centrist punditry – why does the NYT keep these guys? I guess that’s NYT saying that they have a balanced perspective, Paul Krugman on one side, semi-prudish Brooks on the other. I bet the sky was falling when alcohol prohibition was lifted and the kids were feared to go to school drunk.

30 revver January 3, 2014 at 8:22 pm

According to the article’s anthrropologist Jason Pine, modern capitalism is to blame. How would one go about outlawing that?

31 Alexei Sadeski January 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Not modern capitalism, “late capitalism”. :]

Evidently the next great economic system is just around the corner.

32 Max Factor January 3, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I think we should take the resources devoted to combating supply and use those resources to combat demand. The drug war is over – the police and military lost but the real victims are the poor brown people in Latin and South America who die and are killed by the thousands getting this poison into the country. Plus, as #4 points out, people can easily make meth at home.

Rich and poor love their drugs, alcohol, nicotine, etc. so it’s not a class or income issue. Somehow you have to reduce the demand – some cities have wacky programs where they pay people to use library cards and go to the doctor – maybe you can pay people to stay off of drugs if you’re into those kind of transfer systems.

I read about this drug Ibogaine that is supposed to be a miracle worker with regard to combating certain drug addictions (opiates). The drug has some wacky side effects and the rehab industry (which mints money) and big industry (they push methodone and suboxone – which don’t really work as well as Ibogaine) are lobbying against it because Ibogaine threatens their revenue streams.

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